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nosh friday: herbed foccacia

January 15, 2011

Last semester, in my bakery class, we made bread. And more bread. And some more bread after that. Then we took a break and made some bread.

It was the most glorious seven weeks of my life.

As someone who always feared making bread, after one wrong turn with a whole wheat sage bread several years ago, I thought that I hated making bread because it was time-consuming, hard and the bread never seemed to turn out soft and chewy. Instead, I ended up making lots of croutons with my sad bread that was so dense it could bruise a man if I threw it too hard. I’m going to teeter out on a limb and guess that I’m not the only one who has felt that way.

Admit it — you’re scared of making bread.

Well, fear not. Because I am here to give you a bunch of handy, from-inside-the-industry, top-secret tips that will make you into a bread-making master. Or at least, it will help diminish your fear a little, once you smell that heady baking, herbed scent. This focaccia comes from a recipe I learned in school and in fact, was part of my final exam! It is one of the simpler recipes I learned and is so delicious. The bread is soft and chewy, while the crust is crisp and just a little cheesy. This recipe makes 8 small foccacias; if that sounds like too much for your household, it can easily be halved.

Despite the fearsome aura surrounding making your own homemade bread, it really doesn’t take an arsenal of tools that you can only find online or years of practice. All you need is a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment (and really, you could use a wooden spoon, bowl and your own arm strength, if you like) and a few hours to let things rise and shape. If you have a kitchen scale, that wouldn’t go awry, either. I like using weight (i.e. ounces and pounds) much better than volume (i.e. cups) because it’s much more accurate. If you plan on becoming a home baker, I would suggest spending the $25 for a kitchen scale; it’s a wonderful investment and is so handy. But for those of you that don’t wish to do so, I have converted everything into approximate equal quantities in cups, tablespoons and teaspoons.

Roll up your sleeves and dust off your bread-making ambitions. It’s foccacia time!

Herbed Foccacia

3 c. + 3 T. warm water
2 T. active dry yeast
6 3/4 c. bread flour
1 1/2 T. salt
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. turbinado sugar (also called raw sugar)
1 T. dried rosemary
1 T. dried basil
1 t. dried thyme

Seasoned Oil:

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t. dried basil
1/2 t. dried oregano

Stir and dissolve the yeast in the warm (not hot!) water and let it stand for about ten minutes, until it gets a little foamy and bubbly. This helps you know that your yeast is alive and kickin’. Active dry yeast only lasts for about a year and should be kept in the refrigerator. While your yeast does its business, measure out and ready the rest of your ingredients. Doing this is part of what is called your mise en place, which means “things in their place.” It’s part of the method bakers and chefs follow when preparing a recipe. It helps minimize mistakes, such as forgetting ingredients or not remembering to preheat the oven. In this case, however, don’t preheat your oven yet. We’ll get to that later.

Once your yeast is ready to rock, pour it into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the olive oil, sugar, flour, herbs and salt. Make sure to do it in this order, as the liquids and items that need to dissolve, such as the olive oil and the sugar, need to be combined with the yeast and water. The flour helps provide a “barrier” between the salt and the yeast, as salt can actually kill your yeast. We can’t have that, so be careful to add your salt last. Once it’s all in the bowl, attach the dough hook and mix on the lowest speed for a minute, to let the ingredients just combine. After that, turn the speed up to medium (about a 4 on the Kitchen Aid model) and let it knead for about 7 minutes. If you are doing this by hand, mix the ingredients as listed above in a large bowl with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. You can knead this by hand for about 15 minutes (hand kneading is always twice as long as it takes on a stand mixer — this is what develops the gluten in the flour and gives bread its air-pockety texture).

This dough is rather sticky, so if you find yours is a little TOO sticky, add a little more flour as it’s kneading. Don’t add more than a few tablespoons at a time. You still want the dough to be a little sticky (as is common with doughs with fat in them, such as olive oil). Use a firm spatula to help scrape your bowl out and rub a little oil on your hands as you handle the dough. It should help.

Oil the inside of a large bowl and once the dough is finished kneading, scrape it into the bowl, flopping the dough around to help coat it fully in oil. This helps keep it from drying out as it rises. Drap a damp towel over the top and let t rise in a very warm place for about 45 minutes to an hour. I find setting my oven on the warm setting and then cracking the door a little is a great way to help the dough rise. It does best in about a 80-90 degree setting.

The best way to tell if your dough is done rising is twofold: first, it should be twice the size (my dough took up that entire bowl by the time it was done rising); second, poke your finger in the dough. If the indentation from your finger remains, it’s ready. If the dough springs back, it still needs more time.

Once it’s ready, flop it out onto a well-floured surface and punch all the air out of it. Cut it into eight equal pieces using a bench knife (this is an example of one, they’re quite handy) or a regular knife, using a cutting board underneath. (I usually do this by weighing the whole piece of dough and dividing the total weight by 8, then cutting each piece and weighing it, making sure each piece weighs exactly 1/8 of the total weight. If you have a scale, do this, it’s more accurate and they bake more evenly.)

Next, we want to round each piece. The best way to do this is to shape the piece into a rough ball and place it on the counter, placing your hands behind it and pulling it forward, using the friction between the dough and the counter to help “drag” it into forming a ball, turning it a quarter turn each time, until round. It’s hard to explain without showing you (you can see one of my hands as an example in the photo below, though you need to use both, when you aren’t holding a camera) so here’s a video that shows another way of rounding you can try.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Take two sheet trays and drizzle olive oil onto them, using your hands to spread the olive oil around evenly. Place four balls onto each tray and let them rest for 10 minutes under towels. After ten minutes, use your hand to smush the bread down into a large, flat(ish) circle about an inch thick. Use your fingers to poke dimples into the top, then cover the trays and let them rest for an additional 10 minutes. Repeat this twice more (minus the initial smush), so that you’ve dimpled the bread a total of 3 times. This creates wonderful nooks and crannies in the crust and is traditional in foccacia making. After the third dimpling, you can top the breads with a light sprinkling of grated mozzarella cheese, if you like, and slide the trays into the oven.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until deeply golden brown. Flip one of the breads over and poke the bottom; it should be crisp and not doughy. The bread should have an internal temperature of 200 degrees (a thermometer is another great, cheap investment you can find at any grocery store).

Place the bread on cooling racks and mix together your seasoned olive oil. Using a pastry brush, brush the seasoned oil onto the tops of the bread. This helps keep the crust soft and adds wonderful flavor and texture.

Store in airtight containers for 3 to 5 days. To reheat, place in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes.

Makes 8 small foccacias

One Comment leave one →
  1. Gloriann permalink
    January 17, 2011 7:13 pm

    I tried the recipe and was so excited, but I made a few errors and they didn’t turn out. They taste wonderful though! I may try again 🙂

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